Do you know that way when you feel a little bit cheated over something? Like when you saw something advertised and it really, really didn’t look like it was supposed to? Remember that winter wonderland park that Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen opened a few years ago which was just full of elves sitting around smoking ciggies or pushing broken trains up a hill? That kind of thing. Or when Michael Douglas’ character gets really pissed of that his Whammy Burger doesn’t look like the picture on the menu in the classic ‘Falling Down’? That’s kind of how I feel. I’ve been misled, swindled, downright CHEATED, sir! I want my money back. What am I so bitter about? Well, it’s life, dumbass! This ain’t what it’s supposed to be. I want a refund, can I speak to a manager, please?
Yup, nobody told me it was going to be like this. Okay, it’s not as if this was actually advertised to us, I admit that. There wasn’t a glossy pamphlet handed to me when I was an infant by a sleazy disingenuous sales-baby with Alec Baldwin’s voice looking to make target at the end of the month or anything.
I am fully aware that life is not false advertising. But it’s kind of a letdown, isn’t it? I went to see a lecture by Prof. Brian Cox a few months ago, who described the miracle of human life and how unique it is. We are most likely to be alone, he cheerily explained. So, we’re absolute miracles of biology and chemistry and evolution, it’s a blessing, it’s a gift, it’s… it’s… not all it's cracked up to be, I’m afraid.
I mean, I’ve been blessed with around 80 expected years on this beautiful blue planet, and yet here I am, depressed as fuck, a state I’ve been in for as long as I remember. I honestly can’t think of a time in my adult [and some of my childhood] when I wasn’t haunted by demons. This isn’t what I signed up for, sleazy sales-baby dude! I want a refund! False advertising! Fake news! Alternative facts!
Seeing as it’s World Mental Health Day, I thought we should explore this poor pay off and discover just why I’ve spent more time in the dark than in the light. It’s like I’m some kind of sad-looking, podgy hairy human mushroom [I suppose people would describe me as a fun guy]. Well, if I was writing this a couple of years ago, it may well have just been one entire large question - W H Y ? - however, now I have some answers. Yes, late-2017’s diagnosis of autism came as both a surprise and blindingly obvious. Bloody hell, of course I was autistic! It made so much sense. Then came the flip side… I’m autistic? What the hell, man?
Oh, what a night. Late December, back in ‘17. And there it was. Suddenly, I was autistic. Except, I always had been. I am just AMAZING at hiding it and covering it up.
The diagnosis answered a lot of questions. It also posed many new ones. During the sessions with the doctor, some revelations came forward and revealed themselves. I now knew that I was a mono processor [no, I didn’t know what it was, either]. Basically, my brain can only handle one input at a time. If two people try to speak to me simultaneously, I can’t hear either of them. A great example of this is if I’m on the phone and someone beside me is trying to get me to ask a question or something to the person on the other end, all hell breaks loose. Two is too many inputs. It also explains why I have always struggled to hear or pay attention to people in a busy cafe or bar. You know that constant chatter that you hear as background noise? I hear it all. Every single voice. I can’t block them out, they all enter my ears and zoom around like flies caught in a jar before merging together and falling out again. I can’t then focus on the person to whom I’m paying attention, which in the past has got me into trouble. Now it makes sense and I can explain without looking like an ignoramus.
There are many greatest hits featured on this anthology of autism, but I'm going to stick to my best-sellers. I suppose the thing I struggle most with now is the feeling of not fitting in. When I’m at my lowest ebb, this becomes the mantra of my demons. Over and over they tell me that I don’t belong here, that nobody understands me, so what’s the point? I feel alone, isolated and afraid. I worry that a demon will convince me that I genuinely don’t belong here and I am so low I allow their whispers to become facts. This constant dread can inflict near-paralysis at times, where body and brain become frozen with fear, rendering me useless and ineffective.
There is an argument to be heard that it’s true, I don’t fit in and blend in with society. But what’s the problem to be had with that? What is “normal” anyway? Society is improving, becoming better at accepting people who are deemed “different” and allowing us to feel accepted, rather than bullied for not conforming to a certain mould. But you’re not the one that needs convincing about this, dear reader. It is I that remains unconvinced or rather, it is the nasty urges and suggestions that exist within the evil part of my mind that need to be de-radicalised.
I yearn to be rid of this torture. Constantly feeling like a man with a fork in a world full of soup is exhausting. It’s not even like it’s a blip, it’s pretty much near-constant. When I’m not wrestling with myself and attempting to convince the good part of me that I deserve to be alone, I am refreshed. It is most pleasant to feel balance with the universe. But it is, as always, a fleeting moment of light in a world of darkness, like a pinhole of white peeking out where a needle has poked through black card.
The constant battle is draining. It is isolating and painful. The only comparison I have is it is akin to unrequited love. If you are lucky enough to have never felt this, then lucky old you, but I’m assuming most of you can relate to this. That empty hollowed-out feeling of giving your heart to someone who does not reciprocate can be one of the hardest and most painful things a human can endure. I read somewhere that it is ‘like drowning but you just won’t fucking die’ and I most definitely can relate. That horrible situation of spending time with the person where your heart’s compass points versus the agony of knowing that’s the closest you’ll ever get to them is very similar indeed to attempting to be a square peg splintering itself in a society of round holes. The loneliness and the pain and the heartache and the futility of it all have parallels. God forbid you ever suffer these horrors simultaneously.
Here’s the thing, though. You wouldn’t know if I was. I am King of the Maskers, Chief of the Cheaters, The Dark Prince of Pretending. For pretty much my whole life, I have been someone else. From a very young age, I realised that I was different. I thought and spoke and acted in a manner that nobody else did. Being different created situations that drew attention to myself. I did not want this, so I had to blend in to pretend I was "normal". Pretending is performing, and performing is exhausting. During my diagnosis, the doctor called me "a chameleon who blends into every situation they're ever been in". All of this constant pretending means I never rest, which leads to the anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. But let’s look at the positives, I now have a reason for how I feel! [good old straw grasping, there]
Constant masking takes its toll. I don’t know how many people actually know the real me, but I can most certainly count them on one hand. And sometimes I look a little deeper at it and am terrified that nobody knows who I am, not even me. I worry that I have spent a lifetime developing this character, this guy who can make everyone laugh, speak to a room full of people, be on stage to talk and sing, instantly connect with people and generally be a person that everybody likes. My fear is that isn’t me. I genuinely don’t know who I am. I believe that I ‘absorb’ people, taking prompts from how they act, walk and talk. I’m built from everyone I have ever met, and now I know that, it hurts. Since diagnosis, when I began this voyage of self-discovery, it’s like I’m peeling away layers to try to find who is under this armour, this hardened shell. The problem is, with the removal of each layer, it exposes raw, tender flesh. The deeper I go, the more painful it becomes. I’m not sure if I want to continue.
Confusion reigns within this mind. There’s a common theme, isn’t there? And as I said, we’re only scratching the surface with the most obvious of my issues. I do tend to get puzzled easily. I could fill an entire PhD on that subject. What are the right words, who can I trust, did I make a monumental fuck-up [again]? What about this question that keeps me awake at times?
Good question, Scott’s demons! It’s one I don’t have the answer to. Maybe I was destined to feel like this. Maybe my condition is a curse. Maybe it just doesn’t fucking matter. We know that so many people suffer from mental health issues without any other conditions, undiagnosed or otherwise. It doesn’t matter the reasons, we all know just how goddamn painful this can be and we should all stick together. Strength in numbers, strength in unity, in this situation we should not discriminate but communicate.
We all know how depression behaves. It’s the devil. It is pure evil. It can strike us whether we are at our most vulnerable or when we feel powerful. It can be expected or unexpected. It appears in many guises, feels for you, fools you. It takes the form of a person in a busy bar, catching your eye, flirting with you, making you feel wanted, exciting you, enticing you. It leads you on a merry dance, you twist away along a winding path, waltzing, spinning, stepping in time to the tune it plays. You are transfixed, entranced, infatuated by it. You are seduced, it whispers in your ear, caresses you, says what you want to hear. How can you not resist?
This is why so many of us are struck down by these issues. We get drawn down into the dark vortex until we cannot get out. The viscous black tar traps us, escaping is exhausting, why should we bother trying? It’s too easy to become complacent when depressed. We become used to how it feels, then if it becomes some kind of bizarre comfort blanket, except this one isn’t soft and cosy, it’s itchy and irritating. Yet you still pull it over you and become one with it.
I know that for a lot of you reading this, most of what I’ve written is not fresh information. If you are new to me and my issues, then welcome. As you can see, I write honestly and from the heart. If what I have written helps out in any way, then on this World Mental Health Day, we have success. In the past, I have been called brave for being open and honest. But the reason I write today is not that I want a pat on the head and a biscuit [although who doesn't want that?] It’s because I am angry. I am fucking livid that people who are living through their own brand of personal hell are being left out to dry. There is talk but no action. There are promises but nothing is delivered. What is the point in asking people to speak up about their problems if absolutely diddly fucking squat is to come from it?
We need real change and fast. There is now an epidemic of suicide, not just in this country but across the world. The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention, and for good reason. While we don’t want to take our eyes off our vulnerable friends and family, we now also need to get louder and demand investment in mental health services. We can’t just put our depression on hold while we wait an inexplicable time for much-needed therapy. Let’s get loud, let’s get angry. Sometimes I feel I’m in the most pain imaginable, but it pales into insignificance when it comes to the pain of losing another soul who should have been saved. Let’s work together to prevent heartache across the board. The memories of those lost demand it, the pain of those currently suffering deserve it.
So, what can we do about it on our level? If you don’t know much about Vanilla Ink, then let me give you the brief lowdown. We are basically a four-pronged attack. We teach jewellery through our classes [for both professional and amateur], we make jewellery via our bespoke commission process, we support jewellery by running a nine-month INKubator Programme, and finally we have our social enterprise work. Vanilla Ink is a Community Interest Company [CIC], which means we need to connect, support and give back to the community. This can be both local and within our industry.
Between Glasgow and our second site up in Banff, we aim to integrate into the local area and use Making as a Form of Therapy. Creating pieces of jewellery is a fantastic way to achieve mindfulness, self-worth and a sense of achievement. Being at the bench is basically escapism. You become absorbed into another world, transported out of the dark and into a lighter, more tolerable world. We become proud of what we create, using that to boost our self-esteem. Creativity is scientifically-proven to improve mental health and boost wellbeing.
Our sister site Vanilla Ink The Smiddy run a fantastic project in Banff called ‘Meet Your Maker’, where young people aged 16-25 can participate in an eight-week block of silversmithing, learning about the historical links to the craft within the local area and gaining new skills by developing skills and techniques they never could have imagined. Within the blocks they can learn to make candle holders, beautiful silver boxes, and also silver cutlery. The project is fully-funded which allows us to run the sessions for free. Priority is given to young people from the local area, and for another local feel, the project is based around Duff House. We team up with Historic Environment Scotland, Craft Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council’s Community Learning & Development Team. Together, we can give local kids opportunities that they would never imagine, helping them to flourish and improve their wellbeing.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, myself and Kate continue to build relationships and are attempting to create sessions with various organisations who share our ethos. Recently, we ran workshops in conjunction with Achieve More Scotland, a charity that delivers programmes of diversionary activity to young people from areas of high social deprivation. We created a bespoke silver ring session as part of their Empower Me! campaign. The programme supports girls and young women to engage in new and exciting activities that grow their confidence, self-esteem and provide them with a sense of empowerment. We ran three separate workshops with 24 girls in total, who all made a silver ring stamped with EMPOWER ME on them. All of the students were thrilled to be part of it and couldn’t believe that they were walking away with their own piece of handmade jewellery! It’s great to be part of something like that and we hope to be announcing similar session in the very near future.
In fact, very soon for this Christmas, we are running a festive workshop where you can create an enamelled seasonal decoration or gift tag. We decided that all profits should go to Social Bite, a Scottish based charity looking to combat homelessness in Scotland.
If you’re part of an organisation and think you may benefit from collaboration, please get in touch. You never know whose life you may be affecting for the good. With our growth comes more opportunities, let’s work together to help those who are most vulnerable. Just one more loss of life is simply too unbearable. It would be fantastic if all of us shouted just that little bit louder, worked that tiny bit harder, leaned in and pushed with more strength and force. Maybe then we and so many others can receive the support and services we so desperately need. Let’s not build a network full of false promises, fake compassion and faulty infrastructure. Let’s build a compassionate, caring, competent society that looks after each other and lend a hand each time we fall down.
I’m in, are you?